The class of 1982: on woodsies, frat parties, throwing up, making out, and bad sex

September 30, 2018

I went to a fine public high school in Boulder Colorado. 1000 students per grade, we were the class of 1982.

I was a good girl, a strong student, an over-achiever, a budding feminist. A girl who wanted a boyfriend, desperately. My friends were like me: college-bound AP-takers when these were few, fine athletes and empowered student leaders. I briefly had a boyfriend as driven as I. But mostly I was well-loved by my best girlfriends. I planned to fall in love and maybe have sex too, later, with a wonderful boy who I would meet in college where being smart (and Jewish) wouldn’t matter quite so much. Sex was not really a part of what I wanted, although affection and attention were. Luckily, I was cherished by a co-ed group of friends made up of our school’s best and brightest, all en route to Stanford, Brown, Swarthmore, and the like. I’d go to Amherst, the class of 1986. More on that soon.

We danced to DEVO, the B52s, the Clash, Elvis Costello, and Madness at parties we threw on our own. We wanted a way to be together that was different: more fun and more safe than what was the normal night of revelry in our small Western town. At our intimate parties, we saw and loved each other. Held at someone’s house, we drank beer pretty safely that we bought with fake IDs. Sometimes our parents bought it for us. We played quarters. One or two of the most devoted romantic couples, built from our tight friendship circle, chose together to have sex. But mostly, we drank, flirted, and danced. We were sweet and naive, experimenting with being older, carefully, oddly, together, in fits and starts. Or perhaps we were exactly what you’d expect: just young and hungry and full of want.

Every once and awhile we chose to go to the parties the “popular kids” threw (football players and cheerleaders, kids from wealthy homes). There kids drank way more beer, stood in sticky stinky hallways, acted dumb, got too drunk, and nobody knew what to say. I didn’t think any of this was attractive or even fun really, and I certainly was not attractive in this context given that I was smart. Once I did make out briefly with a boy from a rival school under the bleachers at a football game. I remember his name was Reggie and that he put his tongue in my mouth. I thought that was awful, but I did relish the adventure, the possibility, the fact of being chosen, and the taste of something new. Occasionally we decided to attend huge parties that were open to all the students, hundreds and hundreds of us. These were called “woodsies,” although they mostly took place in the plains outside of Boulder—just grass—we all had to drive there following some strange mimeographed map. At woodsies, in marauding clusters lit by car headlights, people drank unimaginable quantities of beer from kegs set up in the dark. At one, I ended up with an older boy, in a group where another one of my friends was similarly coupled. We all made out. It was dark and maybe we were around a fire. I was much more drunk than I’d ever been. I didn’t really like it; I didn’t even know the guy’s name. This was not what I wanted at all. I was a good girl and all of it felt scary: the drinking, the not knowing. I wormed my way out of that embrace. One of my friends drove us home; she was also pretty drunk, just less so (this was before the concept of designated drivers really took). I made it home and threw up on the front porch of my house before I rang the door bell. Then my dad let me in. I told him how drunk I was but not about the yucky kissing. He took me to my room and helped me into bed. The room spun. I rarely drank that much again (in my life). I cannot say the same for the kissing.

This was not my me-too moment. But I did learn something about alcohol, boys, parties, and sex.

At Amherst from 1982-1986, frat parties dominated the social scene: fueled by alcohol. These dangerous spaces were pretty much the only social game in town. I remember ending up in a dorm room with a man I only barely knew after some frat party, doing something I didn’t like. I’m not sure what. I was drunk. He was more drunk. I wormed out of it and got home somehow. I forget how. I forgot it right away. I still forget it. Because it was gross. Frats were banned at Amherst during my sophomore year for this very reason: known as they were as havens for drunken misogyny, bigoted admissions, and as hold-outs of the patriarchal boys-club soul of the place. In the 1980s, my school was beginning or pretending to change, given that women had been only recently admitted (against the good-ole boys’ best efforts; they fought, too, for their frats, which immediately popped up again, illegal bastions of just the kinds of male comaraderie that was built upon hatred of women [and themselves, most likely] that still fire these elite institutions and their all-male hold-outs).

During my junior year, I lost my virginity at something like a frat party in my own dorm where I was actually the RA. I had long had a crush from afar on this boy because he was one of the smartest people in my constitutional law class (as was I). He was a star of the baseball team: gorgeous, verbal, and very suave. We flirted on the dance floor. I thought we were going to have a relationship, based on our shared intellect and hunger for more, and fooling around in my dorm room would be the beginning. He had no idea I was a virgin. He was drunk. Thing moved fast. I had most likely had something to drink, too. But mostly I was operating via naivete, and want, and his lead. It turns out he had a girlfriend at another school. That was that. I took a morning after pill. He told all to his suite mates. I was heart-broken and very embarrassed.

This was not my me-too moment. But I did learn something more about alcohol, boys, parties, and sex.

Outside of the sweet boyfriend I did meet during my freshman year—the very one I had yearned for … we weren’t ready for intercourse yet, although we tried many other things including sharing a whole bottle of expensive champagne … wowza!—my youthful sexuality was pretty horrid. Nothing like what I wanted. Instead it was organized by a series of potentially dangerous encounters that I skirted with desire in my heart and body, and fear there as well. I was not date raped, or molested, or violated … ish. Who can say, really? I mostly forget the details of these many sordid misfires.

Yes, I thought I had mostly forgotten, until testimony about Brett Kavanaugh’s past behavior and that of his friends, frat mates, and teammates arrived, as familiar to me as the air I still breathe. With (and against) such men, I learned to be a young woman and now a grown one. I have done everything in my power (including teaching feminist and queer studies, being an activist, making art, and striving for healthy adult relationships with men and women) to grow into a version of womanhood that lets me (and others) live sex, love, and romance outside the frameworks that dudes like Kavanaugh, especially the “elite” ones, inherit and own. I have worked to forget what I learned of alcohol, boys, parties, and sex during high school and college, and to find love and sex in places organized outside of sexism, inebriation, and men’s uncontrolled and dangerous potent desire and (self)hatred and anger. I wish I could say that I always succeeded. Rather, I’d say I’m working at it. Forgetting has been part of that; and not talking about it; and doing better. The remembering doesn’t feel helpful, just sad: for the society, for those men I can barely name, for myself.

As a queer feminist, I understand that these violent encounters, these sorry missed opportunities for connection, these experiences where girls are hurt physically, emotionally, and sexually are actually bad for all humans, and are driven by sexist understandings of sex and gender which give boys (and the girls who love and want them) few chances or opportunities to be decent. As a grown woman, I seek experiences with men (and women) who want to engage differently with me, even though we all came from this place, the 1980s: woodsies, frat parties, throwing up, making out, taking and losing virginity, but not as anyone would really want.

The classes of 1982 and 1986 are all in our mid-50s. We hear these lurid tales of our peers—as common as are our hopes for change, as core as are our attempts to heal, as definitive as were our homes and towns of origin and colleges of choice—and each episode takes us right back to all that we (hope we) have buried. Not just the violent me-too moments where lines were fully crossed (some of us escaped these, just luck really; many or most did not) but the mundane, addled, disequalibriums of power and desire, love, lust, and hurt that turned us into the men and women we are today.

This week, it became apparent that some of us are more stuck in the 1980s then others. For my peers from the class of 1982 and 1986 (including the boys, now men), those who have tried to do better for ourselves and our towns, schools, society and kids—given this, our ugly shared past—I invoke my stories with strained fondness and some hope. But mostly I write because it feels necessary. It turns out, this is not so much to remember, but instead to draw out, in other terms and for other ends, our sexist, violent youth. We need better forms and fora where we might make sense of our woodsies and frat parties. And better yet, we need better conversations, held outside the patriarchal places where we started and where the old rules still hold. Given that bad sex is one of our generation’s worst shared secrets and current public legacies, I know that we must continue our work to make love and connection better.



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